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Pete Buttigieg visits Kent State

Abigail Kress
U.S Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg interacts with a robotic dog in the Cognitive Robotics and AI Laboratory on Monday, June 24, during a visit to Kent State.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited Kent State Monday to tour the College of Aeronautics and Engineering and the May 4 Visitors Center.

The visit comes after the Federal Aviation Administration, which the Department of Transportation oversees, awarded the university a $419,708.47 grant in March to train high school students to engage with aviation careers.

“You are part of the answer to one of the most pressing challenges in our country right now,” Buttigieg, a former presidential candidate, told CAE students.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Emilia Sykes have a discussion with Kent State aeronautics and engineering students on Monday, June 24. (Abigail Kress)

Last month, the FAA announced air traffic control stations are about 3,000 controllers short nationwide. The FAA has about 11,500 controllers, needing 14,600 to fully staff towers and centers.

The CAE is home to The Runway, which boasts three laboratories that support simulated training in air traffic control. Buttigieg toured The Runway, which has a $2 million air traffic control simulator identical to the equipment used in the FAA training center in Oklahoma City.

During his visit, Buttigieg focused on Ohio’s history as the birthplace of aviation, while he experienced the future that Kent State hopes to create. 

Students welcomed the secretary with an advanced air mobility display, flying drones both inside and outside the building. They also gave Buttigieg a demonstration of the Cognitive Robotics and AI Laboratory, where he met a robotic dog and discussed how advanced air mobility could be a transportation solution for rural and tribal communities.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg observes drones at the College of Aeronautics and Engineering on Monday, June 24. (Alton Northup)

“Our college is really uniquely positioned, and our students have wonderful opportunities across both engineering as well as aeronautics,” said Christina Bloebaum, the CAE dean.

The tech that mechatronic students develop, Buttigieg said, can help economic growth, the climate, equity and safety.

Safety has been at the forefront of any aviation conversation since the door plug of Alaska Airlines flight 1282 fell off a few minutes after take off from Portland International Airport on Jan. 5.

“The loss of a plug door in a situation where somebody could have gotten hurt is enough to have us rethinking our entire oversight to maintain a safety record,” Buttigieg said.

Before leaving, Buttigieg encouraged students to apply for federal jobs in the aviation field. As schools and the FAA recruit more students, he said he is not worried about turning an employment drought into a surplus.

“We view these university partnerships as a force multiplier that’s going to make it possible for us to have the skills we need for a fast-growing sector,” Buttigieg said. “Even if demands were level, we’d be struggling to keep up in terms of getting the right people into the right seats.”

Alton Northup is editor-in-chief. Contact him at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Alton Northup
Alton Northup, Editor-in-Chief
Alton is a rising senior majoring in journalism. His seventh semester with KentWired, this is his first as editor-in-chief. He previously served as a reporter and campus editor. He enjoys finding stories that impact the community and helping student journalists reach their potential. Contact him at [email protected]
Abigail Kress, Photographer
Abigail is a junior journalism major with minors in photojournalism and entrepreneurship. This is her second semester as a photographer for Kent Wired. She enjoys multimedia journalism and developing her skills as a photojournalist. Contact her at [email protected].

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